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Ashish Hemrajani is the virtual ticket master of our times with BookMyShow

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 24.04.14

Smartphones have changed the way tickets get booked. It’s no longer about visiting websites of multiplexes or music festival organisers. It’s about that one app present on millions of smartphones across the country –– BookMyShow, a one-stop destination where you can book tickets for Friday releases, concerts, theatre, cricket matches…. And the man behind the queue killer? Ashish Hemrajani.

After the 38-year-old addressed TC/1 (The Coalition, organised by Only Much Louder and Do One Thing in Greater Noida), where young entrepreneurs came face to face with investors and industry leaders in mid-March, he took a few questions from t2.

How did you give shape to Bigtree Entertainment Pvt. Ltd, which owns BookMyShow (started in 1999)?

It was a realisation during a holiday in South Africa. I was backpacking through the country –– 11,000km in four weeks from Johannesburg to Cape Town. I heard a radio commercial selling rugby tickets online and I had an epiphany. Our rugby is movie tickets. Indians like indoor entertainment. I believe that if you have free and fair information, everyone benefits. I wished to democratise the purchase of movie tickets and build virality and sociability and named my company Bigtree Entertainment, in deference to the enlightenment I received.

Most of your sales come from movie tickets. Why aren’t more revenues coming from areas like music or sports?

For us, while 80 per cent of sales are movie tickets, 40 per cent of the revenue comes from non-movie ticket purchases. New formats of entertainment like sporting events (IPL), adventure sports, music festivals –– EDM is the new rock — gigs in small clubs, indie music events, stand-up comedy... all have an audience.

You have seen several IT booms and busts since you started in 1999. How do you see BookMyShow evolve in a world of Facebook, Twitter and apps?

It’s been 15-16 years since I started my company. I’ve seen the dot-com boom, then bust and boom again. The ecosystem is building again. I don’t have a Facebook page but I have to be mindful of what social media can do for BookMyShow. It can give power to the people, like we saw in the Arab Spring. Being on FB or Twitter doesn’t mean your business will bloom. What they can do is give you a better footprint about your customer, match people’s preferences.

You signed a five-year partnership deal with PVR last year and are looking at ticket sales worth Rs 1,000 crore in this period. What does the deal mean for you and the future of ticketing?

We have partnered with INOX and Big Cinemas but those deals don’t get written about. All our partners have their own ticketing platforms. According to me, it’s all about the end-user, who benefits from this democratic, open environment. PVR Cinemas is an important element of that. PVR are great at getting the right distribution system in place, good show timings, seats, F&B service... they know this business well. It’s a partnership that enables us to do what we do best.

How much of business is done through your mobile app vis-a-vis web?

We focused on mobile apps about four years ago and people thought we were crazy. We updated our app about four-five months ago and we’ve had nearly four-odd million downloads. The business that we get through the app is nearly 40 per cent of our transactions. We invested early in something like a mobile app and hit the right sweet spot. We are an impulse purchase, our major customers is the youth and the product changes weekly.

What is the kind of work that goes behind the scene which we often overlook?

A customer puts his faith in us when he buys a ticket. It’s not just a ticket, it’s a contract. For all live events, BMS gets involved in determining ticket pricing, delivery, buying it in real time (at the venue). That contract, which the customer has with us, honours those seats he has booked. BMS makes sure you get the seats you paid for.

For example, look at IPL matches. Earlier people didn’t know where to buy tickets from, they didn’t want to stand in line in the fear that they could be manhandled by the crowd, goons or cops, or all three. The BMS team is there right from the entry gate and takes care of details like F&B and washrooms. For a 2.30pm start, the BMS team of 150-180 people will be at the stadium by 8am, to make sure that you get the experience you paid for. That’s the commitment that goes in doing an event a day. When everyone is off on the weekend, we’re working. We work very, very hard and the customer doesn’t get to see this hardwork.

What does BookMyShow offer that, say, the American biggie Ticketmaster can’t?

We understand the Indian customer. We’re mindful of pricing –– Indians are the most demanding customers who don’t like paying for anything. What is lacking in India is creative thought and that gap needs to be filled. Where is the next WhatsApp, SnapChat, Instagram?

Why aren’t ticket cancellation and refunds allowed?

Because the entertainment tax doesn’t allow it. We can’t re-sell a ticket. It’s a law issue.

It’s said that Bengal has been slow at warming up to the idea of online shopping. Your take on it…

West Bengal is sort of unique. Calcutta has great music, food and I always love my time there. There’s a lot of talent in the Northeast, where every taxi driver knows his rock music. I’ll draw an analogy with Italian villages. Most youth leave the villages to try their luck in the bigger towns. And I think that is what has happened with Calcutta. All the young, bright people have moved out of the city. Even for people from the NE, Calcutta is just a brief stop on their journey. It has become an old city. The brain drain has impacted it. As the economy kick-starts, Calcutta will become young again.

At the first edition of The Coalition you were one of the speakers. What is the importance of the event?

From my perspective, there hasn’t been a creative jamboree like this before, where thought leaders from the music industry, creative arts and entrepreneurs have all gathered and interacted. That’s how you make big discoveries. It showed that creativity isn’t just about the creators but it’s about creating a state of mind. It isn’t restricted to just your profession.

Finally, what’s your favourite grub while watching a movie?

I’m a stickler for tradition. I always prefer good ol’ popcorn and water. I will always get a mix of caramel and salted popcorn because each bite is a surprise.

Mathures Paul

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